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Will Russia Invade Ukraine or is it Already Happening?

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BY DAN PELESCHUK / GlobalPost

Analysis: Russia’s lawmakers have just approved the deployment of military troops to Ukraine. But they're already there.

MOSCOW, Russia — Russia’s upper house of parliament approved on Saturday President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to send military forces to Ukraine, stoking fears of war in a country whose fragile, post-revolutionary authorities are still struggling to enforce nationwide order.

CrimeaMoscow claims the measure is aimed at protecting Russian citizens in Crimea — a pro-Russian autonomous peninsula on the Black Sea that’s threatening to split from Ukraine — as well as defending its key naval base there amid the political overhaul in Kyiv.

The move came after two days of intense speculation that the unidentified professional gunmen who’d seized two major airports and other strategic places in the region were acting under orders from the Kremlin.

Some experts suggest the approval was a mere formality amid what they say has been a swift and planned Russian incursion into Crimea aimed at further destabilizing a new Ukrainian government Moscow has refused to recognize.

“This is an occupation of Crimea under the guise of a peacekeeping operation,” says Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst in Moscow.

The vote came hours after Crimea’s newly installed prime minister called for Putin’s help and announced he’d take full control of the region’s police and security forces.

Local officials and residents of the peninsula, which is home to a majority ethnic Russian population, are frightened of a new government in Kyiv they’ve cast as “fascists” and “extremists.”

Aksyonov“All commanders are to fulfill only my orders and commands,” Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s prime minister, said in a televised statement Saturday. “I ask those who disagree to leave the service.”

Kyiv’s post-revolutionary government has accused Russia in recent days of staging an armed land grab, eliciting warnings from US President Barack Obama against a Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Photos of heavily armed and well-trained gunmen have widely circulated since Friday’s troop build-up in Crimea. The uniformed forces’ total lack of insignia or identification has left many observers wondering whom they’re working for.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said Friday it deployed troops — in accordance with its agreement with Ukraine — to guard its naval base in Sevastopol.

But Pavel Baev, a Russian foreign policy analyst at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, says the professionalism of the soldiers stationed in Simferopol — the regional capital where troops are occupying government buildings — is a dead giveaway.

“This in itself points very much toward Russian involvement from the very beginning,” he said.

Felgenhauer, a noted security columnist with the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow, adds that Russia may already be busy reinforcing its marines currently stationed in Sevastopol with armed elements from other parts of Russia.

“These are so-called peacekeeping units, which means that they are elite units prepared for expeditionary use outside the borders of Russia,” he said.

The rapid-fire developments in Crimea, long home to pro-Russian separatist sentiments, were joined on Saturday by large pro-Russian demonstrations in Ukraine’s eastern regions, where a Russian tri-color flag was reportedly raised above at least one local administration.

Ukraine’s fledgling government already faces a monumental task bringing the country back from the brink of economic collapse just a week after President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster. Now, the simmering tensions threaten to throw the fledgling central government into deeper crisis.

FederationcouncilMeanwhile, the debate in Russia’s upper legislative house, the Federation Council, coincided neatly with the official line broadcast on Russian state television since the Kyiv demonstrations turned violent earlier this year.

One by one, senators took to the podium to denounce the “fascist” threat — as well as the conniving Western countries that enabled it — emanating from Kyiv’s new government.

Such assessments are largely dubious, analysts say, because even the most radical paramilitary group involved in the monthslong protests that overthrew Yanukovych announced it had no intention of sending its fighters to Crimea. (Shortly after the vote, however, that militant group, Right Sector, called for a nationwide mobilization.)

Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, have slammed Russia’s alleged incursion but have offered few signs they were willing to deploy their own military forces against the occupying gunmen.

After parliament’s approval, boxing champ-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko — believed to be a top contender in May’s presidential elections — also called for a national mobilization, including of Ukraine’s armed forces. But even then, says military analyst Felgenhauer, “the Ukrainian military is in total disarray” after Yanukovych’s ouster.

However, Russian officials and locals in Crimea believe the new Kyiv government, which is backed by a broad coalition of political and civic groups, poses a threat to stability to the region.

The Kremlin said Saturday that armed men from Kyiv had attempted to seize Crimea’s Interior Ministry around midnight, but there appear to be no detailed reports on the alleged incident.

Critics say the move was part of a tried-and-true Kremlin tactic of creating pretexts for intervention in areas — such as Georgia in 2008 — it deems geopolitically valuable.

This time, some experts say, Moscow has moved even more aggressively than usual.

“There is no need to deploy these troops, because there is no threat to any military installation, to any friendlies, or to any Russian citizens,” said Baev, the foreign policy researcher.

“The situation in Crimea, all in all, was peaceful and quiet,” he added. “There were no clashes, and no threats that Kyiv would deploy forces to regain control.”

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Comments

  1. Obama shouldn't be a pussy and must protect Ukraine.

    Posted by: litper | Mar 2, 2014 11:07:53 AM


  2. It has already happened after the Russian parliament unanimously voted for it. US and EU can do very little about it unless they want an all out war. Most observers say it won't happen. The most they can do is to impose sanctions like the last time Afghanistan was invaded.

    Posted by: simon | Mar 2, 2014 11:13:40 AM


  3. LITPUR:
    How? Start a nuclear war?

    Posted by: simon | Mar 2, 2014 11:14:56 AM


  4. Putin fears Obama like an elephant fears a flea. If Americans can read on Drudge that Obama skipped a security council meeting on Ukraine, so can Putin. The "Well, It Wasn't Me!" Presidency.

    Posted by: MIke | Mar 2, 2014 11:33:17 AM


  5. Hitler all over again with Pu-Tin. First let's make the gay hate state driven (jews), then let's invade a sovereign nation over "national interests" (austria).

    I can't even ...

    Posted by: Manroar | Mar 2, 2014 11:34:30 AM


  6. It is fact that historically Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Most Americans don't even know where Ukraine is on the map. You can imagine how much internal opposition Obama will face if he plays a macho man. Remember it is not Syria or Iraq. You are talking about a nuclear power.

    Posted by: simon | Mar 2, 2014 11:46:31 AM


  7. Russia is weak and very dependant on oil and gas prices. There are many ways Obama can make them regret their decisions, but he's a weak pussy, US needs a strong leader.

    Posted by: litper | Mar 2, 2014 11:54:43 AM


  8. @Simon

    Stop hating Americans, it's old. Actually, kiss our butts - we've done a lot of good. Duh, Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union and no, a lot of the people I know in -gasp- America, do know where Ukraine is on the map.

    Posted by: Manroar | Mar 2, 2014 11:55:59 AM


  9. @Lipter

    lol Why do you hate black men?

    Posted by: Manroar | Mar 2, 2014 11:59:37 AM


  10. Manroar:
    You don't have to roar like an animal. I am also an American. No I am not black IF that makes you feel better. It is a fact that most Americans don't care much about the outside world. It is only natural and not because I hate Americans.

    Posted by: simon | Mar 2, 2014 12:05:14 PM


  11. Lipter:
    Obama is not a pussy. I voted for him because I thought he is more level headed than the other candidates. You must have supported Bush to invade Iraq based on something that didn't even exist.

    Posted by: simon | Mar 2, 2014 12:12:51 PM


  12. "a lot of the people I know in -gasp- America, do know where Ukraine is on the map."
    I am glad you did pay attention in class. You are in 12th grade?

    Posted by: simon | Mar 2, 2014 12:18:07 PM


  13. Russia bought the Ukranian gov't, and Russia wants its money's worth, the Ukranian people's opinion be damned. Nothing to say of their choice for joining a more democratic EU.

    The US, no matter its hunger for power showmanship, should the obvious answer be to butt out. If they won't, well, have we not learned our lesson and understood to question what a war with Russia in defense of a very seemingly unpowerful country such as Ukraine would bring the US government? No matter the price and burden of yet another war on its people?

    Posted by: Mags | Mar 2, 2014 12:25:51 PM


  14. We may be seeing 1936 again, maybe not? Guess we do sanctions and see where this goes? Maybe get some arms into Ukraine, countries around Russia ala the French underground. A friend of mine taught English in the Rep. Of Georgia in 2011. He took pictures of the destruction, which was far worse than we were shown in the US. If it gets worse (1936) then we do whatever has to be done, because it won't go away.

    Posted by: Daniel | Mar 2, 2014 12:42:05 PM


  15. We may be seeing 1936 again, maybe not? Guess we do sanctions and see where this goes? Maybe get some arms into Ukraine, countries around Russia ala the French underground. A friend of mine taught English in the Rep. Of Georgia in 2011. He took pictures of the destruction, which was far worse than we were shown in the US. If it gets worse (1936) then we do whatever has to be done, because it won't go away.

    Posted by: Daniel | Mar 2, 2014 12:42:06 PM


  16. I think we should immediately boycott the Sochi Olympic games.

    Posted by: Lee | Mar 2, 2014 1:01:49 PM


  17. Paralympics

    Posted by: litper | Mar 2, 2014 1:15:33 PM


  18. The Ukraine was NEVER part of Russia.

    It became part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics only reluctantly--and with the use of brutally oppressive tactics--after the Ukraine lost the Ukrainian-Soviet War of 1917 to 1921.

    Posted by: JeffNYC | Mar 2, 2014 1:18:41 PM


  19. Ukraine doesn't have a fledgling government. It has an illegal government that seized power by way of an armed mob. Who appointed them? Who elected them? On what possible basis do these armed insurrectionists claim to speak for Ukrainians? If we had a wise president, he'd stay out of this mess. There's nothing of legitimate vital interest to the US in question here. America has no business poking around in Crimea or the Black Sea of the plains of Ukraine. Instead we have Mr. Obama, a fellow who likes to draw lines and dare people to cross them. He drew a line about Syria. Outin dared to cross it, and Mr. Obama scurried away. Now even before he's finished drawing yet another line for Putin, Putin's already crossed it. When will this foolishness stop? When will Americans learn the limits of their reach? When will we start minding our own business?

    Posted by: Jim | Mar 2, 2014 1:33:48 PM


  20. There are a lot of people here with strong agendas and a limited knowledge of world affairs.

    Posted by: ger | Mar 2, 2014 1:39:33 PM


  21. The business of war is the business of making money; my question is, if the previous war benefitted Cheney's Haliburton, who the war with Russia will greatly benefit this time. No offense to the Ukrainians, but the US does not usually go to war of there is no benefit, and only Human Rights are at stake.

    Posted by: Mags | Mar 2, 2014 1:47:31 PM


  22. This has little to do with Obama and everything to do with Angela Merkel - although I wouldn't be surprised if Obama is onboard with her strategy. They’re both masters at this kind of passive-aggressive, rope-a-dope approach to confronting their adversaries.
    As of a few weeks ago Putin had an obedient client state in Ukraine, and all it cost him were some bribes and a little bullying. Then Merkel and Obama chucked some money at the political opposition in Ukraine, Putin’s puppet government there collapsed, and now Putin has to send in the tanks - at enormous expense to Russia. That alone is a huge win for the West.

    Beyond that, it's made Putin once again look like a total despot and instilled incredible fear in all of the other former Soviet slave states bordering the EU. They're all gonna clamor for the EU to protect them. Merkel’s singular focus has always been promoting and expanding the EU, so this is an enormous win for her after having to defend the very existence of the Euro currency for the past half-decade. Now all of those breakaway Soviet satellites will come running into Angela Merkel’s warm German embrace, and all of the smaller European states who have been grumbling about leaving the EU will think twice, with the Russian bear back on the prowl.

    Russia meanwhile has some serious structural economic issues. Their manufacturing sector remains fairly morbid, completely outclassed in international trade by Germany and China, and they depend almost entirely on oil and gas revenue to stay afloat. Thanks to fracking, gas prices are plummeting and availability skyrocketing (even the Israelis are talking about exporting natural gas – it’s unreal). Oil is a little more valuable, but those revenues aren’t going to be enough to keep Russia’s economy growing in the face of an entrenched kleptocracy that’s siphoning off most of the country’s wealth. They simply can’t afford to expand militarily, and will find it difficult to continue occupying Georgia, Ukraine and all of the other splinter states.

    Posted by: Jacknasty | Mar 2, 2014 2:17:16 PM


  23. SIMON, MANROAR was talking to Lipter re black men. He is always here insulting Obama irrationally.

    Posted by: Rowan | Mar 2, 2014 2:59:53 PM


  24. So much for appeasing the Fascist Putin with our back bone free attitudes to the Games at Sochi.

    It all looks so much like Germany in the thirties that it's unsettling; the fascist Olympic Games; the Jews/Gays being made scapegoats; the invasion of the Sudetenland/Ukraine-Crimea.

    @JACKNASTY : you have a point; Europe must wean itself off Russian oil and gas.....other wise we are dependent on what that psycho putin does next.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Mar 2, 2014 3:26:21 PM


  25. The invasion has already started.

    The first step to stopping Russia is to loudly and vociferously declare it what it is: an unlawful, unjustified invasion.

    Meeting Russia on the field of battle must be out of question, but we should do everything short of that to protect the sovereignty of Ukraine, a country of over 40 million people.

    That should include imposing all economic sanctions to rob Russia of its resources to fund this invasion. It should include the freezing of assets of powerful Russian interests, including business interests, in order to force those interests to pressure Putin into backing off. It should include a freezing of all visas of Russian government officials to isolate them.

    It can also include funding the new Ukrainian government to help keep them afloat and make sure they have the resources to defend their status as a sovereign nation.

    There are powerful, aggressive actions the US can and should take to make Putin realize, once and for all, that his actions will NOT be tolerated, short of actually going to war. We can nip this thing in the bud, but we must act fast and with gusto.

    Posted by: Ryan | Mar 2, 2014 4:17:37 PM


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